May the force not be with you

Have you ever felt forced to do something at work you knew was downright wrong?  Of course you have – we all have!  “Wrong” holds no degrees of “wrongness”.  We think it does – but the truth is if something doesn’t feel right – no matter how minor it might seem (i.e. assuring someone a deadline can be met when you’re just not quite sure that’s true or telling someone you read something you didn’t read – not yet anyway!), it leaves us feeling uneasy and it drains our sense of personal power.  


You might think it’s easier to cope with “wrong” doing when the decision to engage in a minor level of corporate cloak and dagger is in your control – and better yet – when it’s a secret you can keep to yourself – no one will ever know!  You might justify these little white lies as necessary to keep the peace (in corporate speak this really means – to preserve your reputation with people you believe have power to harm you in some way).  


But, when it’s out of your control…


…when you are forced by others with more power or authority than you to do something “wrong”- oh! – then we get pissed!  It doesn’t matter if “wrong” means: 

  • just not quite the best solution – “What idiot thought this up?”
  • potentially harmful to others – “Wow – this could really screw my BFF at work!”
  • outside of policy or usual practice – “No way – I’m not putting my ass on the line!”
  • downright against the law – “WTF?!!”


The truth is we don’t like being forced to do anything!  Unwelcomed force produces anger – even rage.  And when you struggle to make up your mind about what to do about the situation it adds fear to the mix – gulp!  This cocktail of anger and fear can evoke erratic behavior in you.  You must have a game plan to deal with the numskull offers that will come your way just as much as you need to have a game plan about achieving your goals!  If not, you will believe that you have no power at all at your job – it will rob your sense of efficacy, autonomy – your confidence and sense of engagement for your work and it can put yourself at risk for burnout.  


The game plan against numskull requests is uncomplicated…


Turn your attention away from the force that is upon you and toward the power that is within you.  May the force not be with you!


Let me explain through a real example…


A former client of mine sent me an email – here is what she asked…


“I’m having a problem at work because it’s being DICTATED what needs to be done although it may not be the right thing to be done. Is there any answer to that problem?”


Here was my response (of course I changed her name and added a few more details to give more context to her question)…


Hi Leia- 


Of course I don’t understand all the details of your situation but here are some initial thoughts…


First and foremost – for the situation (at work or otherwise) – be sure you are confident that you are doing everything you can to inform the stakeholders in the situation about the potential risks and rewards of what they are proposing (based on your knowledge, skills, abilities – AND your wisdom:  your experience filtered through an intention to do what’s best for the greater good).   That means seeking to understand:

  • the desired result
  • why that result is believed to the best solution
  • who is affected (and what would they like to see happen)
  • the resources available
  • the perceived restrictions/challenges


If the directed course of action is not what you think will solve the problem – inform and offer options.  If you cannot come up with alternate options – suggest how alternate options might be secured (i.e. focus groups, talking to stakeholders, brainstorming sessions, research best practices, etc.)


If the directed course of action is illegal, against policy, unethical, etc.  That’s another issue – but I believe we can never bend our principles or be a part of something we know to be grossly wrong and retain our power, confidence and connection to a sense of purpose on any level.  We must be willing to risk something that protects and serves only ourselves in order to right a wrong of great magnitude.  It is an opportunity to demonstrate selflessness – that elevates our experience, wisdom, confidence and strengthens our connection to purpose – even if we “lose”.  We can overcome loss of a job or damage to our reputation if we do what we believe is best – it’s really hard to overcome if we did what we believed to be wrong and “lost” anyway.  (And you will “lose” – even if it all turns out ok in the moment – because, now you have revealed yourself to be someone who will “bend” and when people who are willing to do “wrong” find another who will do their bidding – they absolutely will seek to use them again and again).


Secondly – for yourself – know that your power comes from a confidence that you did everything you could to offer others a possibility that will “rightly” get results (meaning in a way that’s compliant, and holds integrity for the situation and people most impacted by the outcomes).  Your power (and sense of confidence) does not come from getting others to do as you suggest – that too is a use of force.  It comes from doing all you could do to remedy the situation in a nonjudgmental way.  The truth is, we don’t always understand (or have access to) all the information and factors that may drive others to do what they do.  So it’s imperative that you treat those you “oppose” with non-judgment and respect.  Treat them as you want to be treated.  If you want them to listen to you – listen to them first.  If you want to be respected – offer respect.  




In summary:  2 options for dealing with force


If you are faced with force to participate in a gross injustice at work – even if your livelihood is at stake (anything we do solely for money ultimately leads to crap anyway) – you have 2 options:


  1. the force response – to comply willingly (that gives power to force) or to comply reluctantly (that meets force with more force).   


  1. the power response – to decline participating and do all you can to remedy the situation with an energy that is open to exploring alternative (respectable) courses of action in a non-judgmental manner.


The power response is a course of action that can enable you to look yourself in the mirror and keep your dignity no matter what the outcome.


When I am in a situation that is completely draining me I go to my mantra…


“All I can do, is all I can do.”  


That helps me let go of attachment to a “right” outcome and reconnects me to my true personal power – my choice to perpetuate confusion, argument and aggravation or to align with what brings me a sense of having accepted my accountability and do all I can to remedy the situation in a balanced, peace-promoting way.  I have accountability with either choice.  Sometimes, making a choice for the later means just saying “No” and being willing to walk away – although that may bring me aggravation too – it’s aggravation I can overcome without residual personality-damaging trauma.  


When force faces off to powerpower always wins in the end.  If force seems to have the upper hand in the moment – then the situation isn’t over playing out.  Maybe you will be there to see the resolution of the situation – maybe you won’t.  May the force power be with you!

About Gina Calvano

Gina Calvano is a certified coach and Senior Professional in Human Resources, with over 20 years of experience as a talent management professional in both the private and non-profit sectors. With a unique approach, she combines her strategic corporate expertise and accreditations with metaphysics and transformational thinking which has resulted in people all over the world feeling good about themselves and connected to a sense of purpose.

She created the Success Readiness Bootcamp™, a step by step process that enables people to easily discover their unique talents and abilities and match them to majors, jobs, industries and leisure pursuits. Gina is also the co-author of Breakthrough! Inspirational Strategies for an Audaciously Authentic Life with NY Times Best Selling Authors Marci Shimoff, Janet Bray Attwood and Chris Attwood and Powerful Connections Made Easy™ with Aprille Trupiano, and is currently working on her next book — Caged in My Cube: The Turnaround Guide For Loving The Job You Hate.

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